November 24, 2017 / 3:12 AM / in 9 months

BREAKINGVIEWS-Indian family writes its own philanthropic code

(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

By Una Galani

MUMBAI, Nov 24 (Reuters Breakingviews) - An Indian family is writing a fresh philanthropic code. The Bharti family on Thursday vowed to hand over $1.1 billion to their own foundation. Though the sum may pale next to other headline-grabbing pledges, there’s a creative – and local – twist. Money will be used to start a university to teach subjects such as artificial intelligence and robotics – free to children from poor communities. There’s no global playbook when it comes to giving.

The Bhartis’ contribution includes a 3 percent stake in their telecom operator Bharti Airtel. It can be hard to get noticed in charitable circles when Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife say they’ll give away 99 percent of their vast net worth in their lifetime. Bill and Melinda Gates also have persuaded about 170 of the world’s richest people to publicly commit to donating at least half their wealth to a variety of causes. Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, currently the world’s richest man, created a buzz this summer when he asked for altruistic ideas “at the intersection of urgent need and lasting impact.”

While education is a common cause for many millionaires and billionaires, the Bhartis are also going beyond the generous, well-trod routes of scholarships or even funding whole departments and building libraries. Instead, they’re dedicated to establishing an entire non-profit institution of higher learning targeting India’s large underprivileged class. The plan helps bring attention to the woeful state of the country’s education system, a top complaint of the local financial elite.

Their endeavour also very publicly embraces innovations some worry will subsume jobs for India’s low-cost labour force. A study published last year by the World Bank estimates almost 70 percent of India’s jobs are threatened by automation.

World-changing developments like virtual reality are to be taught at the envisioned university, and degrees offered in electrical engineering. Partnerships with Apple, SoftBank and other companies may be in the cards, too. That sends a clear message of hope that technology can transform lives, and create new fortunes for the future. Even far from where the Pilgrims landed, the Bhartis have supplied a reason to give thanks.

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- India’s Bharti family on Nov. 23 pledged up to 10 percent of their wealth, including a 3 percent stake in flagship telecom company Bharti Airtel, to philanthropy.

- The family will give approximately 70 billion rupees ($1.1 billion) to expand the scope of their philanthropic arm, the Bharti Foundation.

- It plans to set up a not-for-profit university, which will offer free education to youth from underprivileged sections of society.

- The Satya Bharti University for Science and Technology will have a strong focus on artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality and the internet of things, the Bhartis said in a statement.

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Editing by Jeffrey Goldfarb and Katrina Hamlin

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